15 December 2018
Nigerian journalists should watch Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan and always do so with pen and paper ready for note-taking. Hasan was at his best again on the Upfront programme titled: “Who will be Nigeria’s next president?”, and trying to hold Nigerian politicians to account – something Nigerian chequebook journalists consistently fail to do.
This time, Hasan had within his crosshairs Festus Keyamo, the spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking reelection, and Buhari’s main challenger Atiku Abubakar’s spokesman Segun Sowunmi. Hasan spared neither man from scrutiny.
Watch the programme below:
The inquisitioner went straight for the jugular, asking Keyamo about Buhari’s statement as a candidate that no official should have medical treatment abroad at public expense. As president, Buhari has since spent several months abroad on medical leave. Hasan asked whether he was not “hypocritical”. Keyamo tried to put the blame on previous administrations running down the healthcare system. He seemed to have forgotten that Buhari has been in power now for nearly four years and still hasn’t revamped Nigerian hospitals.
Hasan, in typical combative mode, was having none of Keyamo’s excuses. He asked the spokesman what “secret illness” the president had. Keyamo refused to disclose. Hasan said the public had a right to know in a democracy especially as they were funding the treatment.
Hasan has history in giving Buhari a torrid time.
Next in the line of fire was Atiku via his spokesman Sowunmi, who was asked about “questions marks” over his boss on corruption. These included about $40m worth of transfers to the US. Sowunmi robustly defended his man, shouting on a few occasions.
Hasan moved on to Buhari’s claims of defeating Boko Haram and Keyamo kept saying the terrorists had been weakened. And Hasan reminded him that the president’s New Year message claiming victory was clearly not true. The questioner also raised human rights violations by the Nigerian army, including shooting Shia civilians, as highlighted by groups such as Amnesty International. All Keyamo could say in response was that he believed the military’s denials. He was not forthcoming on bringing perpetrators to book. Sowunmi replied that an Atiku government will demonstrate that every Nigerian life mattered and will investigate the killings “asking serious questions”.
Hasan questioned why two men in their 70s were still tussling for the leadership of the country and both men came up with similar answers about experience, the challenges requiring somebody that could unite and so on. Buhari is a retired general and a former military dictator. His bungling rule since 2015 has shown that his experience doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Scottish journalist Hugh McIlvanney once wrote: “No one respects experience more than I do, but experience is relevant only in relation to the intelligence exposed to the experience. If you send a turnip around the world it still comes back a turnip – not an expert in geography.”